Religious Expression Under Siege
Woman Awarded $7,400 Over Crucifix Display in Italian Schools
Adding to the debate of religion allowed in schools, citizens of Italy reacted with concern and outrage on November 3, 2009 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that displaying crucifixes in state operated schools violated the principle of secular education.
The Italy case was brought by a Finnish woman who lives in Italy and has Italian citizenship. Her children attend a state school in a town near Venice which had crucifixes in every classroom. The court awarded her $7,400 in “moral damages” which is to be paid by the Italian government unless the government is successful in an appeal. The judges did not however order authorities to remove the crucifixes from every state-run school, leaving the long-term implications of their ruling unclear.
Stating that the Christian cross was a symbol of the Roman Catholic religion and cultural identity, the Education Minister of Italy condemned the judgment of the court. Other ministers also expressed outrage over the ruling, calling it “absurd”, “shameful” and “offensive”. The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which consist of seven judges at the court in Strasbourg, could prompt a Europe wide debate over crosses in public facilities as schools in Spain, France and Britain have also debated the issue recently.
As counties with a strong history of Christian beliefs are allowing immigrants of Muslin, Islamic and other religious beliefs in their countries, this will not be a matter to go away quickly. Concerned that their beliefs will not be accepted or will be rejected has led several foreigners to express deep-seated tensions regarding the use of religious symbols in state run schools and government buildings. And they are using the courts as their spokesman.
Italy is not the only country where Christian symbols and religious expression are under attack. The United States has had several lawsuits brought before the federal and state courts regarding religious expression.
In July of 2009, a display of the Ten Commandments was removed from an eastern Kentucky courthouse after a federal lawsuit was filed claiming improper government endorsement of religion. In 2002, an Alabama justice was ordered by the federal courts to remove the Ten Commandants from a foyer of the Courthouse building. In 2005, the California Supreme Court heard arguments for removing the words “Under God” from the school pledge of allegiance. American courts are also hearing arguments to remove the motto "One Nation Under God” from the face of all United States currency.
Several states have been asked to consider halting the tradition of prayer before school events such a football games and graduation ceremonies. Public prayer has long been an issue in many states, and many religious leaders around the world are concerned that by removing or mandating rights to religious expression, it will foster religious discrimination and prejudice. In an age where we are trying to teach our children tolerance of all races and beliefs, what does the removal of all religious symbols teach them?
Turkish courts are hearing issues regarding the rights of Turkish Christians to express their Christian beliefs in a strongly Islamic atmosphere.